x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Call for ban on suits as Phelps trails Biedermann

Coach asks for early ban on new suits as the multi-Olympic champion's first loss in four years prompts the threat of withdrawal.

Paul Biedermann is No 1 after beating Michael Phelps, back, in the 200m freestyle.
Paul Biedermann is No 1 after beating Michael Phelps, back, in the 200m freestyle.

ROME // It was bound to happen some day to Michael Phelps. But not this way and not in this race, and certainly not at the hands of a relatively anonymous German swimmer with an exceedingly modest resume. Paul Biedermann shed his anonymity only days ago when he broke a vaunted world record in the 400-metre freestyle. On Tuesday, he handed Phelps his first loss in about four years in an individual event at a major international meet.

Phelps had not been beaten in the 200m free since the Athens Olympics in 2004 but Biedermann triumphed by a body length and also set a world record of 1min 42.00secs in the process. The German has now won two gold medals and consigned two previously untouchable world records to history at the Foro Italico complex where 15 records have been broken in three days. The splurge of medals are being attributed to the new high-tech suits, leading to an outcry that they be banned. Phelps loss prompted his coach, Bob Bowman, to serve an ultimatum that unless the ban is not enforced, Phelps won't swim again.

"The sport is in shambles right now and they better do something or they're going to lose their guy who fills these seats," Bowman said. That meant Phelps, winner of 14 Olympic gold medals. Fina, the world body, have agreed to do away with the suits but pushed the time frame to April or May next year from the earlier promise of January. To his credit, Phelps handed out the credit to Biedermann. "Deep down inside, I can't be mad," said Phelps, who, understandably, looked exactly that way immediately after the loss.

Of his race, done in a time of 1-43.22, Phelps added: "Theoretically it was a pretty good swim for me. Three tenths off my best time after taking six months off. "Paul swam a great race. He split that 200 free pretty much perfect. I didn't have anything in the last 50. And when he pulled away from me, I kind of got left pretty quick. "I'm not happy but I know I didn't train much this year." Phelps was asked the obvious question: Was he beaten by the man or the suit?

"The swimmer," said Phelps, who is old-school in still wearing Speedo's LZR Racer, revolutionary last year but now overtaken by the all-polyurethane suits. Bowman, was not so sure. "I don't want to put him in this situation again," he said of Phelps. "I want swimming to go back to racing on a level playing field. "I want it to happen as soon as possible. And the move to do it in April in unacceptable. It needs to happen Jan 1, if not next Monday."

Biedermann, who is wearing Arena's high-tech suit, said: "I hope there will be a time I can beat Michael Phelps without the suit, of course. "And I hope it will be the next year or the next two years. But it's not all about the suit. "It's not my problem," he added. "It's not the problem of Arena, my sponsor. It's the problem of Fina. They should handle it really fast. I hope just before 2010." Phelps echoed the sentiment: "I look forward to racing Biedermann next summer. It will be fun when swimming gets back to swimming."

* Agencies